I am delighted to take part in this debate. It is a pleasure to follow Mr Darling. Some of his remarks would have had more bite if he had not left us borrowing £428 million every day of 2010. It is a credit to this coalition Government that that figure has been substantially reduced.
As the first Liberal Democrat speaking in this debate, I would not be doing my duty if I did not praise the Chancellor for the decision to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000. This is a long sought-after victory, which I very much welcome, which will see 2.5 million taxpayers—many of them low-paid women—taken out of tax and 20 million taxpayers getting a £700 smaller tax bill than they did under Labour.
I want to use my time primarily to talk about two measures that appear on page 40 of the Red Book. The first is the major step forward announced on zero-carbon homes and the achievement of the target in 2016, which appears in paragraph 1.109. I am delighted to see that. I am delighted, too, to see that the intention is now to increase the standard of energy efficiency of new buildings from October this year. I very much look forward to the announcement by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which is prefigured in the Red Book. I also very much welcome the statement that a decision on allowable solutions will be taken by the summer; the construction industry is certainly ready for this measure. The Zero Carbon Hub has done the preparatory work and the Green Building Council has been pressing for it. I would like to think that the decision reported in the Red Book is at least in part a response to what they have said and to early-day motion 1004, which covers the same ground.
I asked the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time last November whether the Government still intended to be the greenest Government ever. I was pleased that he replied emphatically, “Yes”. I was even more pleased when, in a speech to the Royal Society on
The second point I want to bring to the House’s attention is the excellent news of more investment in homes for rent, with £225 million and 15,000 starts planned before 2015. That comes on top of 170,000 new homes planned for rent and 150,000 decent homes brought up to standard. There are many positive features to our housing programme. Like everybody else in the
Chamber, I wish it was going further and faster, but I do not believe we should listen for a moment to the shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and his complaints, when his Administration reduced the stock of affordable homes by 420,000 and sold so many homes without having a replacement policy—a policy that Labour itself now admits was a failure. I welcome these housing measures in the Budget, but there is still much more to do to improve the quality of our 20 million existing homes and to build the many more we need to the highest environmental standards. I look forward to the coalition making yet more progress in the remaining two and a half years before the general election.